Dec. 19-20: Lake Titicaca via Puno - Dancing Indigenous Soul Train and Eating Guinea Pig

Puno Travel Blog

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Me and the Cuy King (guinea pig) - had to put the guinea pig pics first

We arrived at Juliaca located at 3800m and surprisingly, I didn’t feel the same shortness of breath I had in Quito.  I had been taking Diamox for the last 2 days and it seemed like it was working.  I was proud of myself because I stopped taking the altitude sickness drugs after Lima and adapted quite well to the altitude.  I had been really worried that altitude would be a problem with the incredible physical exertion of the Inca Trail, given my problems in Quito doing nothing. 

We rode by bus to Puno, the launching point for the Lake Titicaca islands.  The plan was to visit Taquile Island, homestay on Amantani Island, and check out the floating islands on the way back the next day.

There's nothing like dressing up your food and putting a carrot in its mouth
  Our tour guide for the islands was incredibly knowledgeable and always said “My Friends” and “Well…” in a very deliberate manner. 

After a short respite in the hotel preparing a day pack, we bussed over in pouring rain to the port to buy some gifts (aka pasta, rice, cooking oil, fruits) for our homestay families on Amantani Island.  We were told not to buy candy for the children on the islands, because there was no dental care, but things like pens and pencils were good gifts but not to give money.  It was a weird dynamic because you wanted to take pictures of the cute kids but once you did, they would accost you for money and/or gifts.  They would also try to sell hand-braided bracelets for 2 soles (66 cents) each but we were told not to support this elementary form of capitalism because the kids were distracted in schools making their goods.

Yums!...?
If you ask me, it’s a great lesson in economics. 

It is at this point that I begin to slowly form my views and opinions on the disparity of wealth between myself and other peoples in the world, between different peoples within the same country.  I can’t say that this trip is my Motorcycle Diaries, but it has helped really open my eyes to the great differences in possessions and material wealth…more than any African charity organization on TV has.

Anyways, we get on our way on the possibly the slowest moving boat.  If there was a paved path to the islands, I think we would have gotten there faster walking, altitude and all.  We had lunch at a “restaurant” on Taquile, a nice picnic area on one of the many terraced farms.  It was delicious: vegetable soup with quinoa and grilled trout served with rice and potatoes.

Cuy defeated
  I was also introduced to coca tea, another staple to Andean life and a formidable opponent to Diamox.  If cocaine is anywhere near as empowering as coca leaves is, I can see why people take it.  Muyuyo, a mint plant, also makes a wonderful, energizing tea, or just to sniff.  It sounds sketchy but it really helps.  And…it’s natural.  All these natural aids, I thought I’d be apprehensive to try, but like many times traveling, I surprised myself in my relaxed, easy-going approach to new things and experiences and go with the flow.  I am often an over-worrier although my paranoid ways did make an appearance, particularly on the Inca Trail. 

The hike up to the main square of Taquile left me huffing and puffing.  Even though I wasn’t feel the same shortness of breath as in Quito, any physical activity still left me breathless.

On road from Juliaca to Puno
  Given our delayed schedule (having to fly that morning), the artesanal market was closed and we had to hurry it back down to the boat before the approaching rain clouds hit us.  It was ominous, you could actually see the rain clouds looming nearer and nearer.  I died going up inclines and felt like my knees were breaking on declines. 

The boat ride to Amantani Island was short but bumpy.  We practiced Quechua phrases on the boat. Quechua is the language of the Incas and still spoken by a lot of people in the Andean region.  At the pier, we were introduced to our homestay mom.  Olga was the mom for Avi and me.  We huffed uphill to our house (I was ready to just sleep on the hill to avoid the endless uphill climb).  After dropping our bags off, we met the others for a lungs-piercing hike up to Patchatata, the ruins of a temple.

Group on boat
  At 4,200m (about 14,000 ft.), we could see the other communities around the island.  In the past, people would only pair up with people in their community but now they get together with people from other communities, which helps with the problems of inbreeding.

Dinner was starch-filled and delicious: vegetable soup, followed by a starch potpourri: pasta, rice, potato, sweet potato, green pepper.  We ate in the kitchen, a mud hut with no electricity and everything cooked from a wood stove.  Olga lives with her parents, brother, and daughter, Nellie.  Apparently, Nellie’s father ran away with another woman.  This was told to me nonchalantly in Spanish by her parents and wasn’t sure if I understood correctly.  But Olga later confirmed it.  It’s not uncommon for the father to leave the island to work in Puno or Lima to make more money and eventually drifting away and running away with another woman.

Taquile Island (not to be confused with Tequila!)
 

I kept on trying to befriend Nellie, but was constantly rejected.  Maybe, because I wasn’t quite sure what her name was.  In any case, this was the beginning of my many quests to be friends with children and animals and getting rejected. 

We got dressed up to go to dance hall in a beautiful blouse, colorful waist belts, gorgeous skirt, and well-embroidered mantle.  The dance party lasted for about an hour because every one was pooped.  I danced with Olga, everyone did a huge circle dance (rushing in and out, running around), conga lines, switching directions, and my favorite: a Peruvian soul train going down the train in pairs and even backwards, all initiated by Olga!  Throughout the whole night, I was bummed that I could never recognize Olga amongst the other moms, until she came up to Avi and me to dance.

Tethered sheep
 

Our room was very comfortable but I was freezing.  I had to sleep with about 10 blankets and of course, I had to pee at night, which entailed walking outdoors to the outhouse and hoping I was peeing into the hole because it was pitch black.  I woke up a few times at night until I added the extra blankets.  The altitude also causes people to wake up a few times.  After I got warm, I slept well, apparently missing a huge downpour.  Breakfast was delicious: thin pancakes with jam.  After taking an absolutely classic picture with my new friend Nellie (after giving her a friend), Olga, Avi, and I walked back down to the pier with Olga knitting all the way down.  I was concentrating on not falling on my ass in the slippery mud.

Me with delicious quinoa soup
  After saying good bye and hugging a million times at the pier and at the boat, we were on our way to the Floating Islands. 

We took the boat to Uros Floating Islands, which are amazingly floating islands made of reeds.  They have to regularly add new reeds to maintain the island and they’re tethered to big poles drilled into the ground.  The islands are springy to walk on and really just incredible.  The pictures do better justice to the sight. 

In the afternoon, we returned to our hotel in Puno via an exciting, death-defying tricycle taxi ride, which my taxi won after my exhortations to be number one.  It left our driver heaving but victorious!  Later, I bought an alpaca sweater with the required llama/alpaca on it.

Group chowing down

Animal lovers don’t read below:  For dinner, we ate an Andean delicacy, cuy or guinea pig.  It came served regally with a carrot in its mouth and tomato flower crown.  It tasted a little like duck…I made sure our 9-hour charter bus the next day had a toilet before I committed to ingesting the cuy.  The next day I saw guinea pigs alive, cute and cuddly.
katienoahmaya says:
I am going to be haunted by the guinea pig entree photo for a while.
Posted on: Jan 13, 2008
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Me and the Cuy King (guinea pig) -…
Me and the Cuy King (guinea pig) …
Theres nothing like dressing up y…
There's nothing like dressing up …
Yums!...?
Yums!...?
Cuy defeated
Cuy defeated
On road from Juliaca to Puno
On road from Juliaca to Puno
Group on boat
Group on boat
Taquile Island (not to be confused…
Taquile Island (not to be confuse…
Tethered sheep
Tethered sheep
Me with delicious quinoa soup
Me with delicious quinoa soup
Group chowing down
Group chowing down
The godsend - Muyuyo and Coca Tea
The godsend - Muyuyo and Coca Tea
The restaurant crew
The restaurant crew
The kids waiting to accost right a…
The kids waiting to accost right …
Main square
Main square
Me and a beautiful arch
Me and a beautiful arch
The group on the soccer field on A…
The group on the soccer field on …
Hike up to Pachatata, the peak at …
Hike up to Pachatata, the peak at…
I made it! (Im trying to look fit…
I made it! (I'm trying to look fi…
Entrance to the temple on top of P…
Entrance to the temple on top of …
Another community from the top of …
Another community from the top of…
Vegetable soup at Amantani homestay
Vegetable soup at Amantani homestay
Starchy but delicious dinner
Starchy but delicious dinner
Me and the family.  Olga is on the…
Me and the family. Olga is on th…
Me in ethnic garb (and hiking boot…
Me in ethnic garb (and hiking boo…
Las chicas (notice the stylish hik…
Las chicas (notice the stylish hi…
Our group with mamas
Our group with mamas
Avi and Olga dancing up a storm
Avi and Olga dancing up a storm
Our happy family
Our happy family
My ball of five billion blankets
My ball of five billion blankets
Our comfy room
Our comfy room
Other side of our room
Other side of our room
Breakfast pancake at very necessar…
Breakfast pancake at very necessa…
View from our homestay
View from our homestay
Classic picture of me and Nellie..…
Classic picture of me and Nellie.…
Me and Olga...she was knitting all…
Me and Olga...she was knitting al…
On the boat to Floating Islands
On the boat to Floating Islands
Floating Island boats also made of…
Floating Island boats also made o…
More floating islands...they are f…
More floating islands...they are …
Welcome!
Welcome!
Demonstration of how the islands a…
Demonstration of how the islands …
Prehistoric fish caught and eaten …
Prehistoric fish caught and eaten…
Sample tapestry
Sample tapestry
Bartering demonstration dominated …
Bartering demonstration dominated…
Display of her house
Display of her house
Me and bound cormorants
Me and bound cormorants
More reed displays
More reed displays
Our reed boat
Our reed boat
Our reed boat
Our reed boat
Me on reed boat
Me on reed boat
Farewell!  They regaled us with so…
Farewell! They regaled us with s…
Our winning tricycle taxi
Our winning tricycle taxi
Me and Marta, my roommate
Me and Marta, my roommate
That is really close!
That is really close!
Our winning tricycle driver, recov…
Our winning tricycle driver, reco…
Main square in Puno
Main square in Puno
Potato market in Puno...they have …
Potato market in Puno...they have…
Well, if Ill be ordering a frien…
Well, if I'll be ordering a "frie…
Puno
photo by: lrecht